The James Clayton Column: when movie titles change around the world

With Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists marketed under a variety of different names outside the UK, James looks at a few other alternate movie titles…

Sailing across screens this week we’ve got The Pirates! In An Adventure with Scientists, which promises viewers a rip-roaring comic caper brought to stop-motion plasticine life by Aardman Animations.

It’s got inept buccaneers, a delightfully daft plot, Brian Blessed providing the voice of the Pirate King and a swordfighting Queen Victoria with a steampunk skirt. With a great big Wallace & Gromit smile I eagerly embrace this eccentric concoction and skip to the cinema guaranteed to have a cracking time.

It’s only in the United Kingdom, though, that audiences will be taking theatre seats to see The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists. Elsewhere around the globe, cinemagoers will be acquainting themselves with The Pirates! Band Of Misfits. That’s the case in other English-speaking territories – take a trip to Scandinavia, however, and the posters will be advertising a film simply called Pirates! (Albeit in native Norwegian, Danish, Suomi, Swedish or Swedish Chef. Pirates! in Swedish Chef is “Poppa-de-corn-ee-yargh-aah-urdy-gurdy!”)

The French title – Les Pirates! Bons à rien, mauvais en tout – translates as The Pirates! Good For Nothing, Bad At All. Colombia, meanwhile, has it billed as Pirates! A Crazy Adventure (¡Piratas! Una Loca Aventura if you want to show off some Spanish). In Germany it’s The Pirates! A Bunch Of Strange Types (Die Piraten – ein Haufen merkwürdiger Typen) and in Lithuania, Piratai! Nevykeliu Kompanija translates as Pirates! Losers Company.

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Such an interesting array of different international titles is intriguing, particularly if you focus specifically on English-speaking regions. “Why drop the In An Adventure With Scientists tag?” I wonder.

Considering market factors, perhaps the title is too ‘English eccentric’ for mainstream North American tastes and Band Of Misfits more sellable to mainstream tastes in places that don’t revere Aardman as a beloved national institution. By downplaying the presence of a plasticine Charles Darwin (voiced by David Tennant) in the film’s marketing, the studio probably figures it has more of a chance of getting box office numbers in the Bible belt. The mere mention of ‘Science’ or ‘Charles Darwin’ is enough to make some extreme Creationists flip out, call forth hellfire and brimstone and lynch a chimpanzee by the highway.

Nobody wants that. We just want to enjoy a funny movie, so changing the title might be the best option, and perhaps the antagonists have a point in undermining the scientists. Scientists tend to be unreliable, slightly unhinged and quite often evil. The last scientist I hung around with turned out to be breeding clone baby Hitlers in Brazil. Trust scientists? You’d be better off trusting pirates.

Moving from a case of a British production having its title altered in America to an American production having its title changed in Britain, let’s look at The Avengers. In the UK it’s now Avengers Assemble, which sounds like a constructive playset that gives pre-schoolers the chance to construct Nick Fury’s SHIELD Helicarrier out of acrylic building blocks.

There’s probably a good reason for the late name change – possibly to distinguish the flick from the similarly titled 60s spy TV series or to highlight the fact that the film is all about Marvel heroes collaborating and creating a unit and not just growling at each other as the trailer suggests.

Maybe it’s forward-thinking ahead of the further sequels of Avengers Disassemble (Iron Man takes it all apart and sells it all off for booze-money) and Avengers Restoration (Martin Scorsese finds them in an Argentinean basement and uses modern technology to make Earth’s Mightiest Heroes shine again).

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In all probability, some whizzkid in the marketing department got bored, messed around with some promo material on Photoshop and it got taken seriously. Consequently, UK cinemas will be screening Avengers Assemble.

These conundrums come in the wake of several recent episodes of upset and confusion surrounding film titles and the response to these movies has been quite vocal on occasions. Some undiscerning cinemagoers, for example, were baffled by the absence of underwater vehicles in Richard Ayoade’s Submarine. People were disgusted that Tyrannosaur didn’t feature dinosaurs and were disappointed that Paddy Considine’s directorial debut turned out to be a bleak council estate drama and not Jurassic Park in Yorkshire.

There was also the infamous affair of the Michigan woman who sued theatres for damages after they ‘misled’ her into believing that Drive would be like The Fast And The Furious. I’d suggest that having a warning visit from Ryan Gosling and his hammer would’ve been a just outcome to this ludicrous legal action.

On the one hand, it’s sad to think that there are people apparently lacking wit, sophistication or any sense of appreciation for the abstract, esoteric or nuances of plot and deep meaning contained within a film. On the other hand, it reinforces the importance of the title and just how essential it is to any work of art and in its translation to the audience.

So significant is the name of the movie that I’m inclined to embrace a range of alternative titles if it’s felt necessary. It needn’t detract from the movie and there are many classic examples from film history that prove that. Take, for instance, Jacques Tourneur’s Out Of The Past or Build My Gallows High, which remains essential film noir regardless of what you’re calling it.

Some great movies require international title alterations because the references either don’t translate or just don’t jive in other cultural climates. Outside of Thailand, Tom-Yung-Goong isn’t widely recognised as a spicy prawn soup dish so the Tony Jaa action flick gets relabelled as The Warrior King and The Protector. Likewise Sergio Leone’s Giú la Testa – an Italian idiom meaning “Drop Your Head” became Duck, You Sucker! If you don’t like that, and want something alluding to Leone’s other spaghetti westerns, you can choose from A Fistful Of Dynamite or Once Upon A Time… The Revolution.

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These things are fun to play with, and it’s nice to think you can shift titles according to circumstances and mood. It also makes me wonder if certain recent films would have received greater prominence if they’d changed their monikers. How about if Warrior had been called Fight For Family, if Super had been called Shut Up, Crime! or if Drive had been called Los Angeles Neon Knight or Kiss Of The Scorpion?

Who knows? For now, I’ll just keep looking forward to Return of the Batman (The Dark Knight Rises), The Indonesian Tower Block Massacre (The Raid), and Time Bandit Blues (Looper).

First, though, I Pirati! Assurdo Plastilina Pazzi.

James’ previous column can be found here.

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